van Rijn ….. Klaus Maria Brandauer
Hendrickje Stoffels ….. Romane Bohringer
Nicolaes Tulp ….. Jean Rochefort
Saskia Uylenburgh ….. Johanna ter Steege
Jan Six ….. Jean-Philippe Ecoffey
Geertje Dircx ….. Caroline van Houten
With: Franck de La Personne, Caroline Sihol, Jacques Spiesser, Richard Bohringer, Leonard Matton, Jules Matton.
Awash in visual aplomb but recounted with overly didactic strokes, “Rembrandt” is a sumptuously lit and educational biopic that’s stilted and perfunctory in some places, moving in others. A splendid perf by Klaus Maria Brandauer, playing the Dutch Master from ages 28-63, is ably supported by a palette of thesps whose faces deftly substitute for those in some of Rembrandt’s most famous portraits. Director Charles Matton’s WWII memoir “The Light From Dead Stars” (1994) didn’t travel much, but his fourth feature should find fest berths and specialty bookings on the strength of its subject matter alone.
As public domain stories go, Rembrandt’s is filled with triumph and tragedy, conflict and adversity. Pic unfolds in flashback after an aged Rembrandt stalks around his modest studio complaining aloud. Arriving in Amsterdam as a young painter, Rembrandt is theatrically warned by an itinerant preacher (Richard Bohringer) that the notorious port city is a cruel and debauched place.
But Rembrandt’s reputation as an artist is soon made and the florins start rolling in. After marrying Saskia (Johanna ter Steege, radiant), he repairs to a large house where he teaches painting as well as fulfilling commissions from aristocrats, merchants and dignitaries, with whom he’s increasingly popular — for a time.
But infant mortality and plague tarnish Rembrandt’s happiness. Saskia dies following the birth of son Titus (played as a boy and teen by Matton’s sons Jules and Leonard), and Rembrandt seeks solace with his maid, Geertje (Caroline van Houten), and later with second wife Hendrickje (Romane Bohringer), who bears him a daughter and earns the ire of powerful locals.
Due to his insistence on living and creating as he sees fit, Rembrandt falls out of favor with the elite. Betrayed by former friend Jan Six (Jean-Philippe Ecoffey), the artist is humiliated by having his home, beloved curio collection, engravings and oils sold for a pittance at a rigged auction.
In his mission to depict a genius at work in a world of ruffled collars and ruffled feathers, Matton — a painter himself, and creator of trompe l’oeil dioramas — toys with the moods film can summon. But helmer’s fine artistic eye can’t compensate for a script that lacks elan: Overall result is too stodgy, too didactic and sometimes too arty for its owngood.
Memorable visual touches include a beached whale presented against a faintly surreal backdrop; an autopsy in an amphitheater, during which one of Rembrandt’s future enemies, Dr. Tulp (Jean Rochefort), shows how exposed ligaments and tendons animate the fingers of a corpse’s hands; and, in Rembrandt’s studio, the best scene with a dead monkey since “Sunset Blvd.”
Brandauer’s Rembrandt is bold yet impish; his eyes actually sparkle. Rochefort is excellent as the no-nonsense regent who believes the painter must be punished for his sins. The womenfolk are bawdy and/or devoted as required. The appealing score (by another Matton progeny, son Nicolas) is a little too present.